This article was published a while back, a lot has changed but we believe there’s valuable information still relevant.
This article is focused on helping modern musicians, who don’t necessarily come from a traditional music background, understand what roles they fill as musicians in the music industry, and what rights they have and how they should be financially compensated. This first part explains the basic roles of musicians and those involved in making music and then goes on to speak about what the rights and responsibilities musicians in bands have.
A musician’s role is to either play or write music. Musicians who play musical instruments or sing, using their voice as an instrument can be described as musical performers who often play live at music events or perform in the studio as session musicians. A DJ plays recorded music in either a live music venue or through a broadcast medium such as radio, TV and now even online radio or podcasts. These musicians are often referred to as performers.
Composers and songwriters are responsible for coming up with the actual rhythms, melodies and harmonies that make up the musical parts of a composition or song that will be performed live and / or recorded and produced in a studio.
Lyricists are obviously responsible for the lyrics of a song.
An arranger is someone who takes the core components of a composition and adds to or helps develop the composition. This may involve extending the composition, adding to the harmony or even re-harmonising certain parts of a composition.
A music producer is someone who is responsible for overseeing the technical aspects of a musical recording, from coordinating the performers who will play the instruments, directing the sound-engineer on what he needs to do to get the sound right, making sure that the mixing engineer blends all the sounds together to making sure the music is mastered by the mastering engineer so that it is ready to be released in whatever music format, such as compact disc or mp3.
Why it is important to understand the difference between these roles is that firstly there are different music rights and financial remuneration associated with each one. Also in the modern world of bands, DJs, solo musicians and even electronic music producers, these roles are often blurred. They nevertheless are still strongly recognized by the music industry and therefore need to be understood.
If you play in a band you are obviously either a singer and / or instrumentalist, but there is a good chance that you are also a composer. If you perform other people’s music then you can only be compensated with a fee for your performance. An example of this would be if you were in a cover band, playing well known covers or if someone else in your band writes all the music and you just play or sing, in which case you are essentially a session musician.
If you help write the music or lyrics in your band with other band members, then you are also a co-composer of the music, as well as being a performer, and this is important because it means you part-own the music rights associated with the music and therefore are entitled to a portion of any of the performance, mechanical and synch royalties made from the music being performed, reproduced onto a physical medium or synchronized to picture.
If you write all the lyrics and music for a band, then you own all the music copyright for your songs. This is important to understand when you join or start up a band so there is no confusion or animosity later on. You should firstly be clear with all your band mates what role you perform. Are you contributing to the song’s composition? If you feel you are and all your band mates agree, then you need to decide how the music rights and royalties will be split up.
What you need to understand is this: If you write any lyrics, melodies, harmonies or rhythms then you are helping compose the music and deserve a share of the copyright and royalties. If another band member feels that they should own all the copyright and royalties, and you agree to this, then you should probably take on the role of a session musician and ask to be paid for your time spent in rehearsals, on stage and in the recording studio.
If you are approached by a recording label representative at some stage to sign a recording deal, then there is a lot to consider. The SA Music Good News will be covering recording deals soon, but in the meantime have a look at this Wikipedia entry to understand a little more.
If you are looking to record a demo of your music then you would need to hire a small studio to do so. In these cases the small studio-owner often takes on the role of producer, sound-engineer, mixing engineer and even mastering engineer. This is also because modern music technology allows people to accomplish many tasks easily that once were the domain of a big studio employing a range of different engineers and operators. There isn’t really a standard rate when it comes to recording studios because they can vastly differ in terms of equipment and expertise.
What’s important to understand here is that your band may want to take on the role of the producer, because you know exactly what you want out of your demo recording. Producers are often entitled to a portion of the royalties from album sales, but seeming as in this case you would only be recording a demo, the producer would just take a fee.
If you do take on the role of the producer you may want to research music technology so that you understand how a studio basically works. To do so you could look at a part-time or full-time sound engineering course, or research the technology by reading about it. Sites like www.soundonsound.com feature extensive info on recording technology or you could look in your local book store for one of many books focused on easily understanding music technology.
If you are writing and composing your own music it is important that you enroll as a member of the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO). This is because all venues that feature live music need to pay a license fee to SAMRO so that SAMRO can pay the composers and songwriters of the music that gets played in the venues performance royalties.
Membership to SAMRO does not come overnight. Your music must be active – broadcast or performed in public. Also once you are a member you need to be proactive. This means that every time you play at a venue you need to notify SAMRO which of your songs, i.e. compositions, you have performed so that they can compensate you accordingly. To find out more, go to SAMRO’s website.
In the long run you will probably look at a publishing deal with a publisher, which is often incorporated into a recording deal, but it is good for you to understand what rights are associated with your compositions and what organizations are associated with collected royalties for your music and how they go about doing it.
The next part of this article looks at the roles that solo artists and sessions musicians play.